|This is my contribution to Round Thirteen of ABC Wednesday. I am focusing on people for the fourth time, some famous, some infamous and some half-forgotten, although I am worried that I may have exhausted some letters of the alphabet, but I’ll see how it goes!|
Hitler was a trending name in the 1930s (Adolf was Time Magazine Man of the Year in 1939) but it had become #hated by the early 1940s and unsurprisingly those with a family connection became less proud of their surname.
One such was William Patrick Hitler (aka Willy), a nephew of Adolf, who was living in America when that country entered World War II.
William Hitler was the son of Alois, half-brother of Adolf. Alois had met William’s Irish mother, Bridget Dowling, at the Dublin Horse Show in 1909 and they eloped to marry in London before moving to Liverpool where William was born in 1911.
They lived at 102 Upper Stanhope Street which ironically was destroyed in the last German bombing of Liverpool in 1942.
Bridget later wrote My Brother-in-Law Adolf in which she claimed that Hitler had lived with her and Alois in Liverpool from November 1912 to April 1913, in order to dodge conscription in Austria, but this has been dismissed by historians as nothing more than a publicity stunt to promote the sales of her book, although the myth that Hitler once lived in the city persists.
Alois Hitler was an unsuccessful businessman with a restaurant on Dale Street, a boarding house on Parliament Street and a hotel on Mount Pleasant, all of which failed. In May 1914 he returned to Germany to set up a safety-razor business and ended up getting stuck there due to the outbreak of war.
He married again to Hedwig Heidemann in 1916 and Bridget was told that he was dead. She found out otherwise in 1924 when Alois was prosecuted for bigamy in Germany and only Bridget’s intervention saved him from imprisonment. (He had another son, Heinz Hitler, who was later captured, tortured and killed by the Russians.)
In the meantime, Bridget was left to raise her son on her own in Liverpool where he was known as Billy or Paddy Hitler, but having discovered that Alois was still alive, she agreed that William should visit his father in the Weimar Republic in 1929 when the boy was eighteen.
Young William Hitler returned to Germany in 1933 hoping to benefit from his uncle’s rise to power which he did with jobs as a bank clerk, at the Opel car factory and then as a car salesman. But William wanted something better and even tried to blackmail uncle Adolf with threats that he would reveal embarrassing family secrets.
In 1938 Adolf Hitler asked Willy to relinquish his British citizenship, while William again tried to blackmail his uncle, this time saying he would tell the press that Hitler’s paternal grandfather was a Jewish merchant. It was happy families all right and no wonder that Adolf described William as ‘my loathsome nephew’.
Despite this, William returned to Germany in 1938, possibly as a British agent, although this has never been corroborated, but he wasn’t to stay long. Suspecting arrest he again fled the country in January 1939 with the help of a British spy.
William Hitler and his mother went on a lecture tour of America at the invitation of William Randolph Hearst and that is where they were to stay. Willy wrote to Franklin Roosevelt in 1942 seeking permission to join the American forces. You can read the full transcript here, but it included these lines:
The British are an insular people and while they are kind and courteous, it is my impression, rightly or wrongly, that they could not in the long run feel overly cordial or sympathetic towards an individual bearing the name I do.
William Hitler finally joined the US Navy in 1944 and served as a Pharmacist’s Mate and was awarded the Purple Heart after being wounded in action.
He was discharged in 1947. It was at this point that he decided to do away with his birth name, changing it to the hyphenated Stuart-Houston and moved to Patchogue, Long Island, where he and his wife had four sons. William made the most of his Navy training by setting up Brookhaven Laboratories, a successful business that analysed hospital blood samples.
William Hitler died in New York in 1987 aged 76 and is buried at the Holy Sepulchre Cemetery, but his family’s story has continued to inspire journalists and writers ever since, such as this 2002 article from the Telegraph.
And the History Channel which has been known to run the occasional programme about Hitler including the one that has now vanished, so this one will have to do instead.